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Friday, February 2, 2018

OSCARS 2018: Lady Bird (2017)

Let's define the indie darling. Once upon a time, low-budget movies about everyday issues and normal people didn't have much of a place at the Oscars. However, it's now common for smaller movies to ride waves of critical hype and pick up several nominations. This is what allowed films like “Boyhood,” “Nebraska,” and “Moonlight” to win nominations and awards. 2017's indie darling was “Lady Bird.” One of the best reviewed films of last year, it shows the indie darling cycle coming full circle. “Lady Bird” is the directorial debut of Greta Gerwig, an actress who frequently appears in movies of this nature. Considering “Lady Bird” is a lot more tolerable than the mumblecore movies that made Gerwig's name, it's entirely possible she's better at this than most of her former directors.

Set in 2002 – because the time for early 2000s nostalgia is clearly here – the film follows a seventeen year old girl named Christine. Christine has renamed herself “Lady Bird,” in an act of independence and defiance. She frequently butts heads with her mother,  Marion, a hardworking nurse with a strong personality. Lady Bird goes to a Catholic school, despite not being Catholic, in Sacramento, a town she hates. She's not an especially strong student but has hopes of getting into a good college. Along the way, she faces challenges involving boys, friends, and mostly a mother who never backs down from her daughter's difficult personality.

“Lady Bird” stars Saoirse Ronan and that goes a long way. On the page, Lady Bird is a complex, living breathing character. She has quirks but they are always in service of a fully formed personality. Ronan, however, provides the spark that brings all those elements to life. Lady Bird makes bad decisions. She screws up. She behaves poorly around her friends and family. She's a smart-ass when that's, perhaps, not the best thing to be. Yet Ronan's innate likability, and gift for never loosing sight of the character's humanity, prevents this from coming off as off-putting. The opposite is true. Lady Bird is incredibly endearing. You root for this girl so hard. You want to see her succeed, because her flaws go hand-in-hand with her humor, intelligence, audacity, grace, beauty, and strength.

The titular character in “Lady Bird” is lively and lovable, largely thanks to Gerwig's script and Ronan's performance. Perhaps what's best about the movie is its incredibly touching depiction of parent/children relationships. The pull-and-push of the mother/daughter relationship is beautifully summed up in the first scene. Lady Bird and her mom cry together after listening to an audio-book of “The Grapes of Wrath.” Minutes late, they are arguing so badly that Lady Bird throws herself from the car. A later scene plays on this same idea. The two argue while looking through a thrift shop for Lady Bird's prom dress. Their argument temporary pauses so they can both ooh-and-aww over a cute gown. Speaking as someone with an older sister, who has frequently seen his mother and sister have similar conversations, I can say that “Lady Bird” captures this relationship hilariously and honestly. Laurie Metcalf is fantastic as Lady Bird's mom, a strong woman who minces few words but never closes her heart to anyone.

“Lady Bird” is a pretty funny movie. This humor is most obvious in Lady Bird's relationship with her friends and collages. The eccentric girl frequently leaves her teachers and student advisers breathless, such as a surprisingly open nun or an anti-abortion activist. Her relationships with her friends provide an even warmer brand of humor. Such as when she casually eats communion wafers with Julie, her best friend. Or the disappointing romance she has with Kyle, the brainless pseudo-hipster/conspiracy theorist she ends up giving her virginity to. Yet “Lady Bird” is an observant film, filled with as much sad heartbreak as pithy humor. For every brazenly funny scene, like the school's football couch taking over the drama department, there's a quietly sad one. Like a former teacher frankly talking about his depression. Or Lady Bird's reaction to her ex-boyfriend coming out as gay, uncertain of what to do.

Setting “Lady Bird” in such a specific time and place was a deliberate choice that pays off in interesting ways. The spectre of 9/11 hangs over the film in a casual, almost unmentioned way. Lady Bird's mom has to work long, hard hours in order to keep the whole family afloat. Money is never easy to come back. There's even a few cute scenes devoted to the growing role computers had to play in the modern household. Despite honestly criticizing suburban life, “Lady Bird” can't help but have a certain affection for it too. The film's final scene, which bumped it up a whole grade for me, shows Lady Bird reconnecting with her home town, and her family that lives there, despite her constant hunger to reinvent herself as a more serious, worldly person.

“Lady Bird” is a funny, fresh, insightful movie. It features two really wonderful performances from two extremely talented women. Gerwig's visual sense and editorial oversight are strong. She'll direct more movies and I suspect they'll be pretty good too. I didn't love the film as much as many others did but there's little doubt that “Lady Bird” is a delightful motion picture experience. I will pay it a very high compliment: It's a movie about mothers and their children that I can't wait to watch with my own mom. [8/10]

1 comment:

Jaxon Bieber said...

In an age where coming of age teen films 123 movies seem to be churned out with meticulous fashion, often opting for quantity over the preferred quality, Lady Bird challenges the monotonous status quo. Identity is examined through such a beautiful lense, not only relying on the typical teen angst that involves itself in friendship, sex, school, and trying to be something that you're not, but also through a well-crafted resentment of the only home one has known.

What drives the movie, obviously watch swiss army man online free, is the relationship between the titular character and her mother. In every instance, whether it be a scene shared between the two actresses or even in their scenes alone, there was never a moment where their relationship did not feel real. The highs and lows and brilliantly mundane moments of the mother-daughter relationship played out beautifully throughout the film.